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While not quite running away with the division like they did last season, the Scrappers are still a couple games ahead of Auburn in the New York-Penn League Pinckney Division as they head into the All-Star break next Tuesday. The going will only get harder, however, as they recently lost their ace, Luis Oviedo, and top relievers, Adam Scott and Dakody Clemmer, as they were promoted to Lake County. While he wasn’t as much of a Scrapper mainstay, Mahoning Valley also lost their hottest hitter, Richie Palacios, after just 20 games on July 20th when he was promoted as well.
Despite losing so many top players, there are still plenty of great prospects to watch in Niles. Tyler Freeman caught up to Palacios’ 17 game hitting streak and added a couple more, reaching 21 games through August 9th. That streak certainly didn’t hurt his league leading average, OBP and slugging percent. While his average did dip under .400 in mid-July, his slugging percent is significantly higher than any other point this season after hitting two home runs, six doubles and a triple since July 29th. The home runs were his first in 2018 and he now has 21 doubles and three triples on the season.
Also incredibly hot with the stick right now is Hosea Nelson. Nelson won player of the week for the week starting July 16th and parlayed that into a player of the month award for July. For the month of July he hit .340/.376/.553 with seven doubles and five home runs. He now has seven home runs (two hit since the beginning of August), 10 doubles and a slugging percent of .468.
As surprising as Nelson’s increase in slugging percent is (more than .120 higher than 2017), his lack of stolen bases is even more surprising. He was safe on his first 22 attempts including nine last year in Mahoning Valley, yet he has only attempted three this year and is yet to be successful.
On Tuesday, Freeman and Nelson were named to the All-Star team along with Mitch Reeves (who had a great first half, but has struggled recently) and pitchers Luis Santos and Randy Valladares.
One player who started off the season extremely poorly has completely turned things around in the last few weeks. Henry Pujols began the year hitting .145/.232/.258 through July 15th, but he hit his second home run of the season (he had a team record eight in the AZL in 2017) in his next game and began his resurgence.
Since then, he’s hit .366/.392/.620 (boosted by a .537 BABIP after having just a .216 previously), vastly improving on not only his 2018 season, but anything he’s ever done before. This does not appear to be anywhere near sustainable, however, as a BABIP over .400 is absurd and he has struck out 26 times with just one walk during the period, but it will be fun while it lasts.
In addition to losing players to the Captains, the Scrappers also snatched a few up from the Arizona League teams. Starting pitchers Alex Royalty, Yeffersson Yannuzzi and Shane McCarthy were promoted while reliever Andrew Lantrip has finally finished his rehab assignment for an injury that cost him all of 2016 and 2017. It’s really too early to judge any of these pitchers, but the starters have all looked good during their first appearances after promotion.
One starter who didn’t make the jump to Lake County, but was good enough to was Zack Draper. He’s made ten starts this year since joining the Scrappers (he was originally with the Captains to start the year) and, while he has been exceptional overall, he has been even better lately. In his last five starts (dating back to July 18th) he has thrown at least five innings each time out and hasn’t allowed more than a single earned run in any game, dropping his ERA by more than a run and a half. He has walked six, but struck out 25 and has allowed a single home run. His last start against Williamsport was particularly dominating as he allowed six hits and no walks during five shut out innings, striking out nine. The left hander was used exclusively in relief during his first season, but has taken well to starting and should continue in that role.
Coming with the season almost over, the All-Star break (which is actually just two days off including the game itself) will be the final respite for the Scrappers. They will play 21 games over their final 20 games as they look to lock down a play-off spot. If they do, expect to see a rush of the best players from the AZL this year come to support them as the AZL Indians 1 and 2 wrap up the regular season about a week before the Scrappers.